My dad was very proud of his children and grand children, be they short or tall, girl or boy, French or English. If you were in his family, he loved you and that was that. No story best illustrates this than the following.
To start, I need to explain what it was like growing up with dwarfism in a city like Sherbrooke, Quebec. To say that people stared at me would be an understatement. I blame it more on small town mentality, where such surprises like me are more rare than in a bigger city like Montreal where I currently reside. It is not to say that people don’t stare at me in Montreal, but, much less so than in Sherbrooke.
One day, we had a big family dinner in Sherbrooke where my parents lived. Now, we used to live in the United States, so, half of my family still lived in the USA, and most of my in-laws did not speak French. Picture also the variety of sizes in my family: Three siblings were very tall, and three were very short due to our dwarfism. My sister, who was born with dwarfism, had a particularly interesting family: Her husband, a very large, funny and boisterous American fellow, and her three adopted African-American children. To recap, here’s a list to summarize the variety in my family:
- French, English, and some even Frenglish speaking
- Very tall, very short, and everything in between
- Some soft spoken, some very loud and lively
- Some Caucasian, some African-American
So, there we all were, having a very typical and animated Verpaelst family reunion at this restaurant, in the very French Canadian city of Sherbrooke. From people’s reactions, it was almost like the circus had just arrived, complete with bearded lady. Of course many people did a double-take that day, and you could almost hear their jaws hit the floor as they did so. But there was one particular gentleman who gawked at our table, and couldn’t look away.
My father caught this fellow staring at our table on several occasions, and finally had enough. Good old dad started glaring right back at him, as if to say, “What’s your problem?”
Eventually the gawker saw my dad looking back at him, and so he ashamedly looked away from our table, having been caught red handed. Now, my dad was a peaceful man, and I never once saw him get into a fist fight with anybody, but at that moment, I saw a look of anger come across his face that said he was close to doing something irrational. Instead, when the man looked away, the only thing my dad said after his moment of anger was, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Pay attention to your table, and stop staring at us.”
Then, in typical style, my dad ignored the once staring idiot, turned his attention back to us, and continued to have fun with his family that he loved so dearly. It was at that moment I realized just how different our family was and how my dad loved us so much, in all our wonderful variety. He was willing to risk making a scene just to make one person understand that THEY were the one who had a problem, and that we were the normal ones.